Beekeeping Basics 3 – Beekeeping Equipment

Types of Hives – Vertical vs Horizontal

Throughout history beekeepers have experimented with countless styles of hives for maintaining and managing honey bees.  Some hives are extremely ornate resembling something more like a Victorian dollhouse (similar to the picture above) while others are as simple as a hollow log or basket.  No matter what the style of the hive, there are only 2 hive configurations: vertical and horizontal.  Just like they sound, vertical hives allow bees to build comb upward/downward, and horizontal hives allow bees to build comb outward/across.

In this post, I will discuss the most common types and styles of bee hives.  I will also discuss the recommended equipment that all beekeepers will need for managing colonies of honey bees.  Wherever possible, I have included historical information to help beekeepers understand the development of the apiculture industry.

Vertical Hives

Langstroth – Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth’s 1853 book, On the Hive and the Honey-Bee a Bee Keeper’s Manual, changed beekeeping forever by suggesting a revolutionary way for managing comb without destroying the hive.  Rev. Langstroth observed and reported on bee space in his book.  Bee space is the space that bees tolerate without building comb within it.  Bee space equates to approximately 3/8th – 1/8th inch between frames, walls, and lid within the hive.  Langstroth’s hive was the first modular hive that features removable top, bottom, and frames. 

The Langstroth is the most popular hive among beekeepers today.  This style enables for portable hives.  Commercial beekeepers use this hive to move bees from one pollination site to another.  In addition, the Langstroth hive, and compatible equipment, can be purchased from nearly any/all beekeeping supply stores.  A properly painted and maintained Langstroth hive can last for many years.  Due to its durability, availability, sensibility and user friendliness, I recommend all beekeepers start beekeeping with a Langstroth hive.  All other hives and styles, in my opinion, while they are interesting, are less common in North America and may not be the best way to learn the basics of beekeeping. With that, here are two additional vertical hive styles in modern use.

Image of a standard Langstroth hive with double deep brood chamber.

AZ Hive – The AZ hive originates from the European country of Slovenia, where it is commonly used today.  The beekeeper who designed it is named Anton Žnideršič (1874–1947).  These hives open from the back with a cabinet-like door.  Most other horizontal hives require lifting of supers or brood boxes, which can be very difficult for some beekeepers (especially once they are full of heavy honey).  The AZ hive offers beekeepers the ability to slide frames out individually from both lower and upper levels of the brood chamber.  This design makes colony inspections much easier for many beekeepers that do not have the physical strength to lift a 60-80 lb. brood box or honey super.

Warre Hive – This style hive was invented by a French priest and beekeeper named Émile Warré.  Initially called, “The Peoples Hive”, Warré designed the hive to be built economically by anyone with simple tools in his 1942 book, L’Apiculture Pour Tous.  This hive is very similar to the Langstroth – in fact, you would be hard pressed to see the differences. However, if you choose to use this style, be aware that the majority of beekeeping suppliers may not carry frames specifically designed for Warre hives, and you will likely need to construct a majority of these items yourself.

Horizontal Hives

LongLang / Horizontal Hive – This style of hive is likely a cross between a Bee Gum and Langstroth.  It consists of a single story hive with frames that are aligned to work horizontally.  To get an idea of what this looks like, think of the Langstroth but instead of towering up, it is stacked side by side. This hive style was highly popular a century ago in the Southeastern United States, but has faded from use due the cumbersome size.

The Top-bar or Kenya hive –This style hive is commonly referred to as top-bar hive because the bees draw their comb from bars suspended across the top of the box/cavity.  Beekeepers in Kenya can construct these hives with minimal materials such as stick and reeds.  Unlike other hives, the beekeeper does not provide wax foundation.  Some beekeepers may provide a small amount of starter wax to encourage the bees to build their comb along the bottom of each top-bar.  With a lid that swings upward, this style hive mimics a natural tree cavity or Bee Gum.  Top bar hives are very popular among beekeepers who whish to have organic beeswax or raw comb honey.

Tools

Smoker – First known as the Quinby Bellows Smoker, the modern day bee smoker was invented in 1853 by Moses Quinby.  From the state of New York, Quinby called himself a ‘practical beekeeper’, and utilized his observations to develop management methods and equipment.  Quinby is credited with inventing the bellowed smoker that we know today.  Quinby is also credited with building one of the first centrifuge honey extractors, and recognizing then developing methods of treating American Foul Brood disease.  He was a frequent contributor to beekeeping periodicals of the time, sometimes contributing multiple articles and Letters to the Editor in a single month.  

The smoker is considered the most important tool for beekeeping.  This is because beekeepers who use smoke will not be stung as often as those who choose not to use smoke.  The smell of smoke does a few of things to the bees.  First, a little smoke into the entrance of a hive will cause the guard bees to abandon their post.  This will prevent them from releasing the alarm pheromone (which smells like banana) that will then cause chaos for the beekeeper.  Second, the smoke that drifts inside the hive will trigger the colony to gorge on honey because the bees think that a wildfire is nearby.  The bees will store as much honey in their crops as possible to prepare for the need to abscond, and/or to endure a long period without flowers after the fire.  Additionally, honey bees that are full of honey are much less likely to sting.  Finally, the smell of the smoke will help cover any alarm pheromone that the bees expel as you are tending to the hive.

Modern smoker used for beekeeping

Hive tool – Throughout beekeeping history many types of tools have been used to scrape debris and burr comb from hives.  Beekeepers have been known to use a variety of things such as butcher knives, putty knifes, paint scrapers, pry bars, or molding bars to separate equipment during hive inspections.  Due to this, the quest for the perfect beekeeping tool began sometime in the 1870s – 1900s.  In 1907, an advertisement in Gleanings in Bee Culture featured the “Ideal Hive Tool”.  Also, in that same year, L.F. Sawyer patented his invention called the “Bee Knife”.  Until this point in history, beekeepers used any and all tools that got the job done and could be found at any local hardware store. 

Image of a modern hive tool with multi-tool functions for beekeepers.

Frame Perch – The frame perch is a highly underestimated tool for beekeepers.  A frame perch is just as it sounds, it holds the frames during hive inspections.  Without a frame perch, beekeepers often place frames on the ground during hive inspections.  Most frame perches can hold 3 – 4 frames.  Removing just these frames using the perch creates enough space inside the hive to move the remaining frames around internally without having to remove them during hive inspections, and without crushing large numbers of bees.

Image of a typical frame perch.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Veil, Jacket, Suit – The history of the bee veil is difficult to track down.  However, as early as 1918, we can find advertisements for the Indestructible Veil.  By 1924, numerous inventors marketed their versions, with names like Tulle Veil, Alexander Veil, and the Delphos Veil.  Today, there are a large variety of veils to choose from.  However, there are also bee jackets and suits that offer much more protection from stings.  Beekeeping jackets and suits can be made from canvas material or a breathable protective backing that keeps the bees from being able to sting.

Image depicts a jacket with veil used for beekeeping.

Of course, you can take the macho approach and work your bees without a veil, but I do not recommend it. 

Each honey producing colony contains 40,000 – 80,000 bees and each colony can exhibit different behaviors at different times.  Sometimes, you can work your bees without having any angry bees.  Other times, you will open your hive and you’re met with a cloud of bees that cover your face.  This is a good time to mention, for a person not allergic to bee stings, it only takes approximately 1,000 stings to kill an adult and 500 stings for a child – and again, that is if you ARE NOT allergic!  For this reason, wearing a suit, jacket, or veil is essential for safety while beekeeping. 

Gloves – Hand protection is important when handling bees.  While holding frames of honey bees, your fingers may accidentally pinch or crush individual bees.  When a bee is crushed or pinched, the bee will expel the attack pheromone from their abdomen.  This pheromone will trigger a cascade of other bees to expel their attack pheromone as well.  Before you can put the hive back together, the bees will be stinging your hands and any other part of the body that they can access.  When this happens, the beekeeper is likely to increasingly panic with every sting.  In the chaos it becomes very difficult to place all frames, boxes and lid back into the correct position, and many bees will be crushed in the process.  As more and more bees are crushed, more attack pheromone gets released, and soon many beekeepers are sent running for shelter from the attacking bees.  This scenario is easily avoided by simply wearing gloves.  The gloves that you chose to wear should provide adequate coverage, while maintaining dexterity for handling equipment and tools.  A good fitting pair of gloves will allow enough dexterity for the beekeeper to pick up an individual bee (such as the queen) without crushing it.

Image of standard beekeeping gloves that allow for dexterity while managing honey bees.

Works Cited

D. Edwards, 2014, Moses Quinby: America’s Father Of Practical Beekeeping, Bee Culture, accessed @ https://www.beeculture.com/moses-quinby/

L. L. Langstroth, 1853: Langstroth on the Hive and the Honeybee–a Beekeeper’s Manual

M. Quinby, 1853: Mysteries of Bee Keeping Explained

J. Thompson, 2016, Best Hive Tool, Bee Culture, accessed @ https://www.beeculture.com/best-hive-tool/

https://www.wikipedia.org/
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